Germans and Their Supposed “Cleanliness”

by classickbene

You know what really grinds my gears? Germans priding themselves on their alleged übercleanliness. Sure, there are worse countries in the world when it comes to public waste management (though most public waste management in Germany these days is outsourced to private contractors), and while Western Germans lamented das Waldsterben (a term that the British and French have loaned) during the 1980s (a time when those Gutmenschen also took to the streets and demonstrated against die Nachrüstung while German defense goods killed — and still kill — all over the world), der Deutsche Wald is actually doing pretty well. Or let’s say, doing mostly well.

No need to leave the well-trodden paths of your favorite forested Naherholungsgebiet to take notice of garbage that has been left by man. Whether it be the packaging of your child’s favorite cereal bar (which has been sold to you as gesund — sold to you by the same people whom you believe that only “Piemont” cherries are used for your favorite pralines [google it!]), used condoms, or a whole garbage bag — the debris of civilization is ubiquitous. Seriously — who in the world takes the expense of time and gas money, drives into a vineyard, and leaves their darned garbage bags there? Wouldn’t it be easier to just throw them in your own waste container? Or to sneak them into your neighbor’s garbage can if you are not willing to pay the Müllgebühr for a two-person household?

Back in the day, we were more or less forced by our elementary school to clean up a particular section of our town’s wood because it was full of garbage and because it was the early nineties with the 1980s repercussions of environmental debates. A friend of mine and me were at first against participating — we feared heroine junkies’ used syringe needles would poke our delicate 10-year old hands. In the end, we caved in, helpd to clean the forest, and never found any used syringes. The reward? A well-known square-sized chocolate bar for each student … Quite an incentive.

Fast forward a decade or two. Ever used a public (read: federal, state, or local government-owned) bathroom in Germany? No? Lucky you. Yes? Then you know what I am aiming at (or rather, how some people are NOT aiming at all). If you drive down the Autobahn, I recommend stopping at a rest stop with a gas station and restaurant. Their restrooms are (usually) cleaned — you will have to pay 50 Eurocents, but you will do that, knowing that your Klobrille (toilet seat) and the rest of the whole hygiene installation will be clean (and you can use the 50 cent voucher to purchase one of your favorite chocolate bars). If you stop at one of those Rastplätze without a gas station, you might not be that lucky. Not only can it be an adventure in itself to find the correct entrance (male? Female? Urinal only?); you will freeze to death in winter if you take too long; the machination that dispenses water, soap, and hot air (for drying your hands) does not work 99 per cent of the time — and the whole Autobahntoilette is just plain gross. I have never had the luck to use such a restroom after it was cleaned (when are they cleaned, anyway? Once a week or once a month?). The toilet? Just a block of stainless steel — no toilet seat (guess that makes cleaning with a high pressure water hose easier). If flushing does not function, that is bad enough. Gets worse though when it’s summer and 30 degrees Celsius … You will be able to tell by the flies — and the smell that attracted them.

But even if öffentliche Toiletten are cleaned (somewhat) regularly, that does not prevent or lessen their (ab-)use. Geez, if there are urinals, USE THEM! And don’t spoil toilet seats for those who actually do need them to sit down for their großes Geschäft! And this does not only go for restrooms on the Autobahn. Almost as bad are university restrooms. Come on, are you trying to tell me that you have Abitur and are studying Biochemistry? Does thinking so hard about Kant and Goethe or mathematical equations make you unable to properly flush, use the toilet brush, or USE THE URINAL? And why do I get the feeling that the racist cartoons and slogans (plus those that have to do with shit) you scribble on the stall walls do not really underline your supposed “intellectuality”? (Not to mention that there seems to never be any toilet tissue left. Especially on Sundays.)

I sometimes feel that this disregard of public property stems from a feeling that “the state”/”the university”/etc.pp.” will take care of it anyway, so why should I care?” Maybe you will care if you need to take a dump urgently but there is only one toilet stall left — and one of your fellow “buddies” has left his crappy remains  neatly arranged on the toilet seat. Just because the general cleaning is done by somebody else doesn’t mean you have to spoil it for everybody else. And before you start to rant about another country’s “uncleanliness,” you should vor der eigenen Haustür kehren.